Germantown juggler featured in Cirque du Soleil’s TOTEM

When world-famous trapeze artists, tightrope walkers and others arrive at the Camden Waterfront for Cirque du Soleil’s TOTEM next month, Germantown resident Greg Kennedy won’t be in the audience. He’ll be performing.

There, the co-owner of the Philadelphia School of Circus Arts, located at Greene and Rittenhouse streets, will share his unique approach to juggling in the role of “The Scientist.”

He told NewsWorks this week that the requisite skills didn’t just materialize overnight.

“Ever since I was a kid, I could juggle,” said Kennedy. “It was in my early 20s when I started using physics principals and applying them to juggling.”

Shortly after being named world champion at an international juggling competition, the Drexel University grad left his geotechnical-industry job to purse his craft in 1997. In TOTEM, Kennedy’s act includes standing inside an inverted acrylic cone and using the surface of a cone to juggle.

“I’ve figured out a way to take physical principals and twist them and combine them with juggling theory — to create whole new forms of juggling,” said Kennedy, who joined the show in 2009.

Philly’s circus scene

Kennedy and his wife Shana own the Philadelphia School of Circus Arts in Germantown. They currently travel with their three children on the Cirque du Soleil tour.

During an interview at a Cirque press event this week, he said the school was created to have fun and teach while building up the area’s circus community.

“The circus community in Philadelphia is older than you’d think,” he said. “There’s a lot of circus history here that’s hidden. We’re trying to build a community and reach out to everybody — people in West Philly — all over the city.”

Kennedy said that he tells new performers to remember that “no one wants you to fail.”

“You have to have a sense of confidence,” said Kennedy. “It’s live entertainment. Eventually, you learn to just go with it.”

Behind the scenes of TOTEM

TOTEM, written and directed by Robert Lepage, has visited more than 15 cities in four different countries since it opened.

The word “totem” represents the order of species, as represented by a totem pole; the show traces the evolutionary process of the human species in unique visual forms.

“We have one-of-a-kind performers,” said Tim Smith, the show’s artistic director. “From an artistic director’s standpoint, my job is to motivate and challenge the show, to keep the quality high while honoring the original concepts.”

Smith oversees 52 performing artists who come from 19 countries. That roster includes Guilhem Cauchois, who performs in a fixed trapeze duo.

“I started taking circus classes when I was seven years old, ” recalled Cauchois of Paris, France. “I had a stutter, and the circus was a way for me to express myself.”

With trapeze partner Sarah Tessier, he performs an act that has never been done before; it involves swinging upside down and doing a series of somersaults while in the air.

“It took us about two years of practice,” the 24-year-old said. “The show is a really high level of performers with artists on top of their game. It was like a dream for us to be a part of it.”

TOTEM runs from May 30 to June 23 on the Camden Waterfront. Tickets range from $43.50 to $105.50 for adults and $33 to $77 for children. Visit www.cirquedusoleil.com/totem to learn more.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.